Picking a jury for a trial as well known as Jeffrey Willis' could be difficult

Jeffery Willis interview as jury selection nears

MUSKEGON, MICH. - Jeffrey Willis has received a lot of attention in the Muskegon County community and the media as the accused killer in two high profile cases. He is accused of kidnapping and killing convenience store worker Jessica Heeringa and of shooting and killing jogger Rebekah Bletsch.

His name is so well known in Muskegon County, it will be difficult to find jurors who haven't heard something about the crimes he's accused of committing.

The prosecutor in Muskegon says that's not the goal when selecting a jury.

"People are going to have heard about this case," said Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson.

He also said it doesn't matter if members of the jury pool have heard a lot or a little about Jeffrey Willis. "The real question is can they be fair and impartial?" he asked. "Can they evaluate the evidence presented in court fairly and impartially and come to a decision?"

More: 'I'm not a monster': Jeffrey Willis gives interview from jail as murder trial nears

Hilson has faith individuals who are able to do that will be part of the jury pool. Public Defender Fred Johnson agreed, but he still has some concerns.

"The question is, are there 14?" Johnson said.

In big criminal cases 14 jurors hear the case, two eventually are designated as alternate jurors.

The crimes for which Willis is on trial include:

  • The 2013 kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa, a Norton Shores convenience store worker.
  • The 2014 shooting death of jogger Rebekah Bletsch north of Muskegon.
  • The 2016 attempted kidnapping of a teenage girl on River Road.

The first case being tried is Bletsch's. It's expected to begin on Oct. 17, and because all three cases have received so much attention, the court is calling in a jury pool with several hundred people.

"Because of the saturation of this case, I've gone to Meijer and Home Depot and had people come up to me and express opinions about this case, there's been no trial," Johnson said.

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, during a 25 minute interview inside the Muskegon County Jail, Willis said he's concerned individuals who have followed the case can't be fair.

"I don't know, I would hope so -- that someone would reason things out," Wills said. "Doubtful, I'll say that." He also asked prospective jurors with opinions to, "put that aside, I want a fair trial."

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